Providing a catalyst
Every week I’ll share key insights from a conversation I had learned a lot from in a series called, Providing a Catalyst. This is my attempt to be more human.
A friend of mine had this sign laying around in his apartment it said, “Let me share my deepest fear… so I can get over it.” After seeing it, I said let’s walk around with it in Seattle. He agreed.
We went to the city in the evening and walked around boldly holding this sign.
Here are snippets from some of the conversations we had:
The first person to stop us was a Caucasian male in his early 30’s giving a cigarette to a homeless man on the street. For those of you who know the area, we were in front of Pike’s Place.
After reading the sign, he asked, “so what is it?” referring to what my fear is, I told him: “dropping out of college with 18 credits before graduation.”
Next, he told me his, “dying alone.”
As we continued to walk around the city, the next person to stop us was a homeless man. He told us he had been homeless for 23 and asked me what my fear was.
I told him, “dropping out of college.” After listening to my response, he asked, “what are you afraid of? not being able to find a job?”
I thought to myself, no.
He continued to tell me, “You can find a job at McDonald's, Burger King, Chipotle, Starbucks, or any fast-food chain for $15/hr if you want to. Don't let the fear of money hold you back." He went on to tell us his life story about how he's bi-polar, how his wife left him, and that he has a son.
There was something about him telling me to not worry about money that struck a chord with me. It gave me chills. More on this later.
After a few more of these conversations, we changed gear.
My friend and I had this hypothesis that if we walked around with a sign that said “let’s have a conversation” it would be easier for people to approach us and start a conversation after learning that many people are afraid to approach strangers.
In fact, we were afraid of holding the sign and walking around. Our insecurities stop us from having conversations with others. These insecurities are for the most part made up in our minds and are self-limiting beliefs.
So we put on suits, took a ukulele, and went to the most densely populated area on a weekend night - the bars.
Here are some of the snippets from the conversations:
A conversation with two friends, before they went home:
"My biggest fear is not caring enough to take care of my body."
We ran into a group of 3 friends, one male, and two females. One of them was visiting from Texas for the weekend. They ranged in age from late 20s to early 30s. The guy had previously started a start-up and failed due to his team falling apart and is looking for his next gig at the moment.
"My biggest fear is staying in the same place for too long." They all shared a fear that's some variation of this.
Remember the guy who was giving a cigarette to a homeless man earlier? Well, we ran into him again in a completely different part of town by chance. At first, he didn't recognize us in suits.
He went on to dig deeper, why are you afraid to drop out of college?
I told him, "I thought more about it over the course of this evening--I'm not. I'm actually more afraid of saying that, I'm not afraid than actually dropping out."
This insight occurred when the homeless man asked me, "Are you afraid of not making any money?" to which I thought to myself, "no."
The idea behind this experiment was to be as approachable as possible. Removing as many barriers as we could and signaling to people that we were open to conversation.
We had some incredible conversations, made some new friends, and fought our insecurities. We even serenaded some random people on the street with the ukulele, my friend knows how to play and can sing.
This experiment allowed us to talk to people we normally would think twice to approach. The people we talked to came in all shapes and sizes: wide socio-economic backgrounds, introverts & extroverts, different races, and varying ages.
We ended the night with a conversation with an Ethiopian Uber driver who loves music. He showed us a song that a friend of his is working on. It was in Amharic, a language I didn't know existed.
Although we may never see most of the people we crossed paths with that night, and in life, at least we can say that we stopped to say "hi." Something I plan to do more of.